The Twelfth Day of Christmas Knitting concludes this season with my first and favorite gift that I made this year.
What with the new idea I had this year of applying actual forethought to my Christmas knitting, I had some strategic conversations in early October. One was with my mother, who had a suggestion for a gift for my grandmother: Grammy wanted new mittens.
Now, I take gifts for my grandmother very seriously. She’s a very special person to me. I used to think of her as just being critical, but I understand more now that she truly loves beautiful things, and has an eye for excellence. She has good taste, which I have learned a lot from over the years.
On top of that, she’s had a lot taken away from her in the last few years. She got hit with cancer, which is bad enough, but the type was recoverable, with a good prognosis. The really bad part is that the cancer hit her nerves in an unusual way that took away most of her mobility and independence. It was sudden and horrible, and hard on everyone.
Hard for me in a different way, since this was the first major family crisis to happen since we moved to a different country. We’ve had to accept a different role, based mostly on prayer and emotional support from afar.
That’s a lot to go into a pair of mittens. To reach across the miles at Christmas and touch my grandmother with a physical artifact, from my hands to hers, was a precious opportunity, so I set my mind to doing it right.
Inquiring into the color of Grammy’s coat, it’s a very convenient black. I found, in the stash, a special skein of yarn waiting for just the right project: a super-soft hand-dyed yarn made partly from the softest Merino wool and partly from “possum.” Not “opossum,” the unpleasant looking marsupials whose corpses litter American roadsides, but possum: a large rodent raised for fiber in Australia. The sadly discontinued line is “Possum Paints” from Jamie Possum. Dyed blue and purple with flecks of white and black, it’s beautiful stuff. Jared bought it nearly a decade ago during a visit to Ohio; I bought it off him when we were destashing to move, and it’s been waiting. Waiting, evidently, for Grammy’s mitts.
I’m not sure, now, what led me to the mitered mittens in Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac. Something about making mittens for Grammy demanded something more elegant than the typical rounded Michigan shape.
I had a more pressing issue, though, than silhouette. I had no idea how far 144 yards of this “aran” (which looked much more like DK) would go. I was quite nervy about it, actually. There was no obvious way to work out exactly how far it would go, so there wasn’t even any point in coming up with a contingency plan. I did what any indecisive person would do: I converted the whole pattern to be top-down two-at-a-time. Saved me a gauge swatch as well.
The conversion is easy to describe, if a little tricky to start:
1. Wind a center-pull ball
2. Cast on eight stitches per mitt with a magic cast on – one mitt from the center of the ball, one mitt from the outside of the ball, and knit them two at a time on magic loop (I tried two circulars but prefer magic loop)
3. Increase just like you would for a sock – once on either side of two middle points – with the difference that these points are on the front and back of the mitts, rather than the sides like on a sock
4. Once the mitt tip looks big enough (above), add decrease points in between. This takes the mitered mitt pattern and inverts it; the original had decreases on front and back and increases at the sides, because it was bottom-up.
I could also easily add waste yarn where I would later add thumbs at the right points. I didn’t want to do EZ’s “afterthought” thumbs; doesn’t it seem like it would leave annoyingly short tails? We’ll call these “forethought” thumbs. Goes with the theme.
Magically, there was enough yarn to make the mitts a solid 9″ long. I was nervous about having enough left for thumbs, so I did the I-cord bind-off in a combination of black sock yarn and black kidsilk haze I had lying around.
I added one more touch to the knitting: The mitts were long enough, but what with the mitts being straight (no ribbing) and not that long, I was concerned about a draft up the wrists. To combat this, right where the narrowest part of the wrist is, I added eyelets. I used that same sock/kidsilk haze blend to make more I-cord that I could thread through and tie into a little bow.
One more thing: In the request for mittens, Mum had specifically described that Grammy wanted the mittens to have some grip, so she could do things like open doorknobs when someone is pushing her wheelchair. The possum yarn is soft as a dream, but it’s also very slippery.
Enter the long-rejected pleather! It’s very thin, pliable stuff, like a close-knit fabric was sprayed with some kind of plastic. Easy to cut into patches to sew with blanket stitch onto palms and thumbs.
I wasn’t sure how she’d receive them. She’s always appreciated my handmade gifts, ever since I was a little kid and made her some hook-rug pillows, but I couldn’t avoid the feeling I imagine a junior chef has upon having their latest creation sampled by an expert critic. I built in some customizability, just in case they weren’t quite right: the patches are just sewed on, not appliqued, and would be very easy to cut off. The I-cord bows are just tied, not knotted or sewn, in case they need to be adjusted or removed. I am suddenly reminded of Grammy’s signature way of wrapping Christmas gifts: she always made her bows untie-able, so you didn’t have to use scissors.
I don’t know if her hands, so attacked by neuralgia, can still perform such a delicate but firm task. But our prayers are having some effect. On Christmas day, I was texted a video of Grammy walking. With a lot of help, but without a walker. And in the mail, the girls received Christmas cards with her own delicate illustrations on them: the first time she’s drawn in a long time, and apparently the first cards she’s ever made.
When she opened her mitts, she loved them. Just loved them. Says they are perfect. Mum asked if the cords needed adjusting; she wouldn’t let her touch them. The picture I got said everything. She couldn’t even look at the camera, she’s just wearing them, clasping her hands together.
I’m glad I’m not really knitting for a critic. I’m knitting for my grandmother, whose fine taste is more than matched by her affection, and always has been. I’d rather have her love of my person than her stamp of approval on my work; I’d rather my work be something that makes her feel loved than a thing to consume, no matter how tasteful. And so it has always been.
These are the moments that make the miles seem smaller.
One last time, Merry Christmas.